EU launches controversial Kosovo police mission

February 16th, 2008 - 7:17 pm ICT by admin  

Brussels, Feb 16 (DPA) The European Union (EU) member states Saturday launched a controversial policing and justice mission to Kosovo, just one day before the province is expected to declare independence. The mission has the backing of all the EU member states, even those opposed to Kosovo’s independence, but it is contested by Serbia and Russia, who say that it would be illegal without the backing of an explicit UN Security Council mandate.

The launch was approved by the so-called “silent procedure,” under which decisions are considered to be taken unless member states explicitly break the procedure ahead of an agreed deadline, diplomatic sources said.

The silent procedure was not broken, meaning that the mission can launch immediately, sources said. The first elements are expected to move to Kosovo within two weeks, and the full mission is set to be in place and ready to begin work within 120 days.

The mission of some 2,000 international police and justice officials is intended to help the Kosovo authorities train and develop a multi-ethnic legal system.

Its main role will be to provide assistance and guidance to local institutions, but it will also have the right to take the lead in sensitive issues such as war crimes and organized crime, overruling local decisions if necessary.

The bulk of the mission - some 1,500 men - will be made up of policemen from EU member states and non-EU countries such as the US and Turkey. They are to be accompanied by around 250 judges and prosecutors, 250 support staff, and some 1,000 local staff.

The mission is expected to cost 200 million euros ($293 million) in its first 16 months of operation.

However, its legal basis remains under question. The mission was originally conceived by UN’s Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari in his proposal on a final status for Kosovo, but it never received UN Security Council’s backing, as Russia refused to accept it.

EU officials insist that UN Security Council Resolution 1244, which in 1999 authorized the deployment of the current UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), is sufficient to make the EU mission legal.

But Serbia and Russia argue that the resolution, which was written when Serbia (including Kosovo) and Montenegro were still part of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, cannot apply to the current, greatly changed situation on the ground.

They say that they will only recognise the mission as legal if the UN Security Council gives its explicit approval. Since Russia holds veto rights over the council and has always opposed Kosovo’s independence, such approval is unlikely to come easily.

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